In September, parishes in the Diocese of Buffalo began using the new faith formation curriculum, "Forming Disciples," designed to be introduced over the next few years. Of its four key components, the first is a focus on engaging parents in their faith, and in faith in the home. This family attention is intended to build up the Church within households to support a child's growth in the faith. Although the actual process is different in every parish, and it should be tailored to the unique needs of each one, the diocesan Department of Lifelong Faith Formation has implemented a plan to ensure they share a common goal.
"At a minimum, it is asking parishes to think about their traditional religious education process through the eyes of the family, and to seek opportunities to involve parents and equip parents to practice their faith in the home more," said Mary Beth Coates, director of Lifelong Faith Formation. "For some parishes, that has compelled them to totally change their religious education program from student-centered, or child-centered, to bringing parents and the whole family together."
St. Mary Parish in Swormville has had a "family-centered approach" to faith formation for the last five years, but it was only this year that the parish chose to make this its main option.
"Parents attend a 'start-up meeting' where they are given faith enrichment materials to work on at home with their children at their own pace," said Karen Smaczniak, director of faith formation for St. Mary's. "Families also form small faith sharing teams with other parish families, and they meet according to their schedules. Families may meet in their homes or reserve the 'Family Room' on campus."
According to Jennifer Golinski, director of Parishwide Evangelization and Catechesis for St. John Vianney Parish in Orchard Park, families do all of their learning together, either in the parish after Mass or in small groups who meet in homes. Parents also receive monthly assignments to do at home with children and select from a menu of other options to participate in monthly, such as workshops, field trips or service.
"At home, parents work with their children to complete an age-appropriate weekly assignment based on the Gospel reading at Mass," Golinski explained. "Our hope is that our families are doing this together, and thereby growing not only in knowledge of Catholic tradition and devotions, but also expanding their own growth in their relationship with the Lord."
Our Lady of Charity Parish in Buffalo is also meeting families where they are, and adapting programming to better meet needs. Father Bryan Zielenieski meets regularly with his planning team to ensure that the catechesis is dynamic and involves all family members. "Our entire staff plays a huge role in our program's success," he said.
Coates noted that parishes with a traditional religious education model will now offer special family events to bring families together. For example, families learn about Advent and make an Advent wreath together. Their creation becomes a centerpiece in the home when the family prays together.
"The goal is to form disciples, as Jesus did. This happens in small groups - the family. Parishes will partner with parents to accomplish this," Coates said.
For more information about "Forming Disciples," contact the diocesan Lifelong Faith Formation office at 716-847-5501. Stay tuned for future Western New York Catholic articles about ways parishes are implementing "Forming Disciples."